Writing that First Draft

troll enwikipediaorgNaNoWriMo looms. My outline has taken shape. The terrain of a new world sprawls before me, rife with civilization. Characters chatter, love and battle in my head. If you’re like me, that first draft is a molten caldron, uncontainable and ready to erupt. I can’t hold myself back anymore.

troll enwikipediaorg3A first draft is a flawed, untamed, tainted, wonderful, intense piece of art. Before I started using the volcano metaphor, I likened it to vomiting, spilling my guts over the keyboard. Disgusting, but so cathartic.

A first draft has nothing to do with perfection. It’s about the story. It isn’t the time to edit, to labor over weak verbs, revisit dialog, or craft flowing descriptions. You’ve spent weeks fleshing out your outline; it’s time to put it to work and start spinning your tale.

troll enwikipediaorg2A few sections of that first draft will feel inspired and flow from your fingertips. Other parts will require patience and will-power as you drag them like whining teenagers across your page. Your outline will help you persist through those hair-pulling hours, because with an outline, there’s no writer’s block. No matter how painful, you know what you have to do.

Get the story out of your skin. Just write it. That’s the point of the first draft–the story. Your outline is your guide, but remember that a creative outline is still fluid; expect it to morph, flex and grow as you write.

trolls pinterest2My first draft is a constant play between an evolving outline and the written page. My characters continue to surprise me, plots deepen, new scenes appear, dialog ripples off in unexpected directions. I have to go back and add or change scenes, hint at backstory, place the sword on the belt. This isn’t editing–this is getting a story down on paper. At the very same time, I am massaging my outline, changing what is coming based on these unforeseen tangles and turns. I’m deleting and adding, noting follow-up details, tying up loose ends, and making certain that the story is still rational and cohesive when I get to the end.

trolls pinterestThis marvelous, messy, raw creation is your own foray into new territory. I never share my first drafts with anyone. They’re too ugly. They’re warty little trolls blinking in the sunlight. They need baths and haircuts, a visit to the dentist, and a decent meal. But I love them, and they are princes when I get them cleaned up.

Artwork compliments of creative commons: en.wikimedia.org, flickr.com and pixaby.com.


90 thoughts on “Writing that First Draft

  1. Diana I doubt you’ve written any toads but your question is so interesting and thoughtful. I once started a book in 2013, a poorly disguised biography, I don’t think looking back that other things that I read had any influence in me, perhaps because the book was based on fact not fiction. If you’re wondering what happened to the book, it’s stuck in “revise” at Bookrix. ♥️

    Liked by 1 person

    • One person mentions that music is her muse when writing poetry, and I notice that you occasional mention the inspiration for your poems., another poet or something happening in life. Sort of the same with books. I know what I want to write and gather the influences I need around me. 🙂 And your book? Your prose is as gorgeous as your poetry.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “They’re warty little trolls blinking in the sunlight.” — love this line.

    Another great post. Couldn’t agree more! Hope there is more flow in your first draft, and less of those whiny erratic teenagers..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sacha Black says:

    I adore the way you describe a first draft. Warty and ugly made me laugh out loud – my first drafts definitely need baths and hair cuts! This tickled me pink. Great post

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I just love how you describe the beauty of this first creation. I’m looking forward to my new writing! You make me want to start now but I think I can wait one more week

    Liked by 1 person

  5. reocochran says:

    I really enjoyed reading about your thought processes. Lovely photos of artwork to capture your story, too. Super post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Amazing post! I’m also participating in NaNo but I don’t have the outline done as of now. I guess I’ll be spending next week outline my story.
    I agree with you on “A first draft has nothing to do with perfection. It’s about the story.” I’ll be writing mine this NaNo so hopefully I’ll get to the much coveted 50K 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Erik says:

    I need four more of me. I have so many books I want to write, but I have to focus (if you can call it that) on one thing at a time. Right now, it’s the current book and “my kids” (the ones I mentor). The problem is that I want to be everything: world traveler, dancer, circus performer (no really), you name it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Widdershins says:

    That style of artwork always reminds me of The Dark Crystal. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Diana, I don’t comment much, but I have other writer friends that participate in this event. Kudos to you! Very great post on the beginnings of your journey!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I love the description of your first drafts as “warty little trolls,” Diana. I’m just glad it doesn’t take as much time to go through labor to give birth to a baby as to a book. I’ve been lazy about finishing my first draft and have to get back to it. It’s my memories until age 18, and no one remembers but me. Good piece. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Cat says:

    You make it sound so exciting! I find the first draft of anything can be challenging and so tempting just to trash everything. I love those images. All the best with your writing

    Liked by 2 people

  12. balroop2013 says:

    Hi Diana,

    Love your creative description of the first draft and the pictures are amazing! I wonder where did you get them and how much time you must have devoted to find the relevant ones. Superb!

    It is quite inspiring too when you say that when the first draft is ready, “it will help you persist through those hair-pulling hours, because with an outline, there’s no writer’s block.” You are so right.

    Thanks for sharing that ‘warty creature’s’ outline, I know your ‘prince’ would be absolutely handsome!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. C.E.Robinson says:

    Wow…love your creative description of a first draft! Kind of a first draft mini-story in itself! Going to follow along with the structure of writing a book draft in November, only chapter by chapter. As a co-author, I’m writing someone else’s story and wait for the stories to come in by e-mail. It’s a slow go, but I’ll keep up the pace to get as far as I can. Good luck with yours! Chryssa

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Thank you for sharing your process. As someone who still dreams of writing a book someday, this is very helpful.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I did NaNo last year and it kicked the hell outta me. Good luck on your frenetic first draft quest, my friend!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. This should be the header for NaNoWriMo! Excellent way of describing the painstaking task of writing a rough draft. I am looking forward to the challenge as well. Good luck with your novel!

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Carrie Rubin says:

    “My first draft is a constant play between an evolving outline and the written page.”—That and everything else you wrote defines my process as well. Perfectly stated. I feel a bit frenzied in the first draft stage. I actually prefer the stages that follow. By the time I get to the second draft, I feel like I can sit back and take a breath. Then again, it’s never as exciting as writing the first draft either, so there’s that. But once things get more polished, that excitement starts to come back.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Mira Prabhu says:

    Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    I rewrote my first novel – Whip of the Wild God: A Novel of Tantra in Ancient India – about seven times in 20 years…now here’s D. Wallace Peach’s marvelous post about the joys of getting that first draft done…

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Annika Perry says:

    Beautiful illustrations and this is a mini story itself – the art of creation. Messy, rough but inspired and full of vitality. Whilst not officially taking part in NaNoWriMo I’m going to be working like crazy to finish my first draft. I’ve been re-reading, outlining and finding huge gaps between chapters as the story digressed elsewhere. I don’t need to write 50,000 to finish so don’t think I qualify for the NaNoWriMo. Good luck with your project – trolls and all!😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Annika. Great luck with finishing your first draft. You can do the unofficial NaNoWriMo and hopefully crank it out. I love that feeling when the first draft is done, even though there’s still so much to do. The pressure eases considerably. 🙂


  20. The first draft bursting from a volcano is a great piece of descriptive writing. Thanks for the lesson on first drafts.

    Liked by 3 people

  21. “They need baths and haircuts, a visit to the dentist, and a decent meal. “…fabulous description. ☺

    Liked by 2 people

  22. orangepondconnects says:

    I am amped up for NaNoWriMo! The story I will be working on requires some research on my part so I am trying to get that all done before the 1st of November comes! I am also having fun getting to know a whole new cast of characters since the book I will be working on is a fresh one that I came up with about a week ago (so I definitely have some research to do lol) 🙂 Great post as always!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m getting ready too and equally amped! Yay! I’m a very slow writer at the beginning of a book, so I’m getting some of that out of the way now. I should be in the groove by November and will try to keep up with the word count…yikes. Good luck with your research.

      Liked by 2 people

  23. This is all very well, but what happens when your first draft is a river, but you were supposed to be making a fish pond? I’m in the middle of a genre-switch at the moment, and I don’t mind telling you, it’s making me twitchy.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Jed Jurchenko says:

    “A first draft is a flawed, untamed, tainted, wonderful, intense piece of art.”

    What a perfect description! I struggled in my writing, until I was advised to write first and edit later. Once I allowed my writing to be tainted and untamed for a time, the words flowed much easier. I may need to pin this quote above my desk. That first stage of messy but wonderful, is such an important part of the writing process.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Irena S. says:

    Wonderful art! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  26. They are adorable! Great work. Good luck.

    Liked by 2 people

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